Elizabeth Elango was born and raised in Cameroon, Central Africa. Her education started at a small bilingual primary school in the economic capital city of DOuala. After which she went on to an all girls Catholic middle school in Mamfe, a town near the border of Cameroon and Nigeria. She completed one year of high school before moving to the US and going to university and graduate school. Her undergraduate degree is in International Relations from Kennesaw State University and Masters degree in African studies from Yale University. After graduate school, Elizabeth received a Fulbright scholarship to study Swahili in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Then, she went on to work for an education-based non-profit in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola engaged Elizabeth Elango on her passion for and journey into the development and non-profits sector. excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly share your career journey till now?
Elizabeth: Much of my career has been anchored in three things; my love for people, my commitment to education and my love for Africa. I started out working for a non-profit organization called Heifer International, which was an agriculture based organization. I worked there for 15 years, and the last role I held was Vice-President for Africa programs. In that capacity, I led the organizations’ Africa portfolio, which was a multi-million dollar investment in 12 countries leading 300 staff. It was a very demanding yet deeply rewarding experience. After I left Heifer, I became the CEO for Junior Achievement Africa, based in Accra, Ghana.
Over the course of those five years, I led a program in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, driving the organization’s agenda and mission to promote youth entrepreneurship, workforce readiness and financial literacy. Following my passion for young people and for education after that, I accepted the role of CEO and Head of School at Global Village Project, where I now work. GVP is a school for refugee girls who have newly arrived in the US, having missed many years of schooling. We reactivate their schooling so that they can access all the benefits of education. We create a safe place where they can learn and thrive.
Alaba: What led you into development, non-profit and your passion for the sector?
Elizabeth: I’ve always been drawn to service. Growing up in Cameroon, I saw what poverty, social injustice and inequity looked like and I was drawn to a sector that worked to address these issues. In the non-profit and development sector, I find that I am able to apply everything that I am passionate about and everything that I’m good at. I like to be with people and I am honored that in the roles I’ve held I’ve been able to sit with marginalized people and hear their stories. And so, I have made it my career to do whatever I can to be of support to them.
Alaba: You currently lead the only school in the US for Refugee girls. What sparked the interest?
Elizabeth: As the CEO and Head of School at Global Village project, I see myself in the girls at our school. Like them, I went to an all-girls school. Like them, I moved to the US as a teenager. Like them, my education was critical to defining my future. If I could start where I started, in a school in Cameroon with a dirt floor and make it to an Ivy league University in America. And then go on to lead organizations and travel around the world and influence others, then they too can do that and more.
Alaba: Tell us more about the Global Village Project. What is it set to achieve and how do you measure impact?
Elizabeth: Global Village Project is an amazing school. When girls arrive in the US as refugees, they have often missed five or more years of schooling. Yet, the system places them in schools according to their ages and not their academic abilities. At GVP, we have a school that is tailored to their needs. We have a robust three-year program that starts with English language literacy, then adds on STEAM. Social and emotional learning and mentoring to help our students succeed. At GVP, students are categorized in forms based on their academic and language ability. Our students range in age from 11-17. They come from over 20 different countries and speak even more languages.
Here, we have a strong system of support to ensure their academic success and emotional wellbeing. We are able to be attentive and responsive to the fact they’ve experienced trauma in their young lives. At GVP, our students become part of a sisterhood of success with other girls who they can relate to, learn from, learn with and grow with. It is a pretty magical place.
Alaba: How has your purpose, mission and values shaped your journey thus far?
Elizabeth: My purpose is to try and always place myself where the world’s greatest need meets my greatest ability. So far in my career, I have been very successful at doing so. In many ways, I feel as if I’ve never worked a day in my life because I’ve always enjoyed what I was doing so much that I threw myself into the work. The things I care about, the things I value show up in my work everyday.
Alaba: As a professional leader with over 20 years experience in the field. What leadership style do you adopt?
Elizabeth: My leadership style is hugely people-centered. I believe in putting people first, second and third. I like to collaborate. I like to share power. I like to grow people and challenge them to do things they didn’t believe they could achieve. I love to see people around me succeed. I hire good people and I trust them to perform. I tend to coach more than I manage. I put a lot of energy into eliminating fear in my ecosystems.
I often help people interrogate their relationship with power, which I think is often very definitive of how we lead our lives. My leadership style encompasses all of these things with a healthy dose of love and empathy and a commitment to always have fun and laughter in any environment I inhabit.
Alaba: What was the biggest “no” you heard in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Elizabeth: In 2015 when I left Heifer, I was looking for a new role and was invited to Amsterdam to interview for a job that I wanted very much. The job was based in Accra, Ghana, where I wanted to move to. At the time, I was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. After a three day trip to the Netherlands to interview for the job, I was turned down for it and I was very disappointed. A few weeks later, I got the job for Junior Achievement Africa, which was by far a much better fit for me.
Eventually, when I moved to Ghana, I met the man who had gotten the job I was turned down for and it made me happy to meet him because he was much more suited for the role. What I learned from that experience and many more since is that hearing No is a way of having your path redirected. What’s meant to be always finds a way.
Alaba: What lasting impact do you hope to have in the sector?
Elizabeth: I am a person of deep faith in God and my hopes and my prayers are the same: to be of purpose to society. If my actions can improve anyone’s life, then I consider that success. If my words can inspire anyone, I consider that success. If how I live my life can motivate anyone, then I consider that success. I don’t want to wait till the end of my career when I feel I have amassed a sufficient amount of wealth and personal security before I give back. I want to give back now.
Alaba: Where would you like to see the sector go from here?
Elizabeth: I hope that the non-profit sector will continue to provide value to society. Especially to marginalized people and to places where there is injustice and inequity. I hope that the sector will grow in its ability to respond to and address stated needs and not just perceived needs. I hope that everyone who engages in this sector will become better listeners and better servants. If we are committed to doing these things, then we will continue to have an impact.
Alaba: What advice do you have for female leaders in the sector?
Elizabeth: I’d give the same advice I give to my daughters and to myself on a daily basis: be bold, be brave, be confident. I say this to all women leaders, not just to those who lead non-profits. We have unique perspectives, valuable insights, comparable intellects and capabilities as our male counterparts. Let us lean into those strengths and be unafraid to be change-makers.
Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care
Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)
Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.
Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:
“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.
“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”
Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:
- The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
- Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
- Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
- Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.
“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.
“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.
“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.
“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.
The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.
The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.
The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.
Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za
Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria
Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)
Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria.
Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the company’s business.
Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.
With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.
IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa
IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan
Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?
Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.
Its vision is – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.
Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.
Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?
Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.
Major recent contributions include:
- We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
- We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
- We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.
Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?
Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary. An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship.
Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.
Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.
Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?
Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.
The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business. In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.
In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.
In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.
Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?
Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.
Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?
Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.
Alaba: Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?
Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.
Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?
Parmi: I have received many accolades including:
- Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
- Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
- Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
- Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.
However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter
- Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Watch IoDSA HERE